Wednesday 13 August 2014

Raising Speed Limits May Not Be The Answer

After many years of government research and lobbying by consumer advocates, British Columbia recently adjusted several of its highway speed limits. To that I say ‘hoorah’.

But, I recently spent a month driving in Germany, Austria and Italy. Before I left people said: ‘Ooo, you get to drive as fast as you want’. And you know what? I was never so scared to be on the road as when I got back to BC.

So why am I still scared to drive on our roads? It has little to do with the limit. It has to do with rules.

Over there I knew that everyone would behave: trucks, caravans (motor homes), vehicles with trailers in the right lane. Unless a sign indicated permission to pass. Passenger cars in the left or centre/left lanes - and pay attention to the mirrors. Never did I fear that a truck or slower vehicle would move into the left lane. Nor would anyone hog the left lane.

Canada and the USA really only have one rule: obey the speed limit - or else. Otherwise it’s kind of like Aussie Rules Football. Anything goes so long as your chasing the ball.

In North America there is only one word to describe our road etiquette: ANARCHY.

Did I drive as fast as I want? Sure. But only what was comfortable - 140 to 160kph was just right. Any faster and it became a strain. Yet I was alert, not complacent and I always moved out of the left lane except to pass.

There were limits on the country roads. Most times they were unattainable either because the roads twisted or, in the mountains, a joke. Austria had 90kph, Germany 100kph on roads that gave mountain goats vertigo. Hairpin curves warned of 10 - 20kph maximums. Speeding was the least of my concern.

Interestingly enough the 2003 BC government studies concerning raising the limits conceded that most people will drive at a comfortable speed given the road and conditions.

Before my trip, I was on the ‘raise the limit’ bandwagon. Now I’m starting to slide off that wagon. Now I’m an advocate of ‘let’s have some rules first’.

Start by creating no passing zones and lane allocation rules. Place signs as often as necessary. Use electronic road signs to change allocation and road speed according to conditions. Then, vary limits and rules more frequently on the roads.

Enforce etiquette, not speeding. There is already a push to make drivers move into the right lanes except when passing. Post more signs. Outlaw passing on the right. Two cars beside each other with a speed differential of less than 10kph does not constitute passing. Trucks drag racing up hills is also dangerous.

Instead of fining etiquette infractions, make it mandatory to take a driving sensitivity course. We already force people to take courses for treating people with disabilities with respect. Why not your fellow drivers? Include it in driver education programs so new drivers learn the good habits.

There will always be those who wish to ‘speed’. There will also be places where speed limits are necessary. There will also be accidents. But I’ll wager that most of those accidents are caused by inattentive drivers creating situations that promote road rage. Then the rage makes others do stupid and risky things. Such as weave in traffic or punch the gas to prove a point.

Raising the limits is a great idea, no doubt. But fundamentally, we need an attitude adjustment. Drivers need to concentrate more on their surroundings and less on the possibility of a speed trap around the next bend.

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